Vocation, Obligation, & the Fiction Writer

The word should stresses me out. My eye is twitching a little right now just thinking about it. It’s a word that “reeks of guilt, regret, powerlessness. If you should do something, it probably means you don’t want to do it, but you’ll do it anyway, albeit begrudgingly. “ I have a long, long, LONG list of things I should do and it seems to get longer every day. Maybe it’s because I have a full time job, a house, two kids, and a dog. Maybe it’s because I’m trying to write a book, manage my mini media empire, and occasionally clock more than 4 hours of sleep. Maybe it’s because I suck at time management. The point is, sometimes I feel like I am awash in a sea of should and I can’t swim and my inner tube has sprung a slow leak.

Not that there’s anything special about any of that. In fact, I’ll bet if you think about it, you have a long should list and a twitchy eye and your own slowly deflating inner tube. Most of us do. It seems to be the curse of modern life.

It never really bothered me until I started hearing myself say things like “I should be writing” and “I should finish Chapter 13 today.” How did that happen? How did writing go from being something I love to do, to something I have to do? Something on the same list with cleaning the bathtub and washing the dog (though not in that order, obviously)? How did I let the line get so blurred and more importantly, how can I sharpen it up again?

First off I’m trying not to say should so much anymore. Under this new rule I will no longer be saying things like, “I should put this book down and do the dishes” or “I should get to work early today.” I’m still going to have a list of things I need to do, and I’ll still going to do those things because frankly, they’re not going to do themselves and they’re shitty jobs that no one else wants, but I’m going to try very hard to change the way I talk about doing them.

  • I’m going to stop being resentful and feeling guilty about the existence of the should list.
  • I’m going to let the little stuff go. Maybe I should organize the linen closet, but I’m not going to.
  • I’m going to make time for the things I want to do.

But most importantly, I’m going to remember the difference between an obligation and a vocation and stop saying “I should be writing.” I’m going to write because I like to. Not because I should.

What’s on your should list? Tell me all about it in the comments. Maybe we can help each other out.





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